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Rare Festival of Britain sculpture discovered in London garden will join Museum of London collection

L-R The cast of Youth shortly after being installed in Henrion’s garden © Henrion family archive, after being rediscovered © Sarah Gaventa.png

L-R: The cast of Youth shortly after being installed in Henrion’s garden © Henrion family archive / after being rediscovered © Sarah Gaventa

30 May 2023 - The Museum of London has acquired a rare sculpture by British sculptor Daphne Hardy Henrion (1917-2003). Youth was created over 70 years ago for the 1951 Festival of Britain, a national exhibition conceived as part of Britain’s post-war recovery. Commissioned by Misha Black, Youth was prominently sited at the 51 bar designed by architect Leonard Manasseh on the South Bank. The artist made a full size cast for herself, which she placed in her garden in London.

The Museum of London has acquired this rare cast of Youth to secure its future and with the aim of displaying it for the public to enjoy once again. The piece, previously lost to the public, was rediscovered in the front garden of the artist’s former home, by Sarah Gaventa, an independent curator who is an expert in the lost art of the Festival of Britain. The sculpture has undergone extensive restoration work, by Taylor Pearce conservation studios, to repair a damaged arm and hand, and revive the darkened surface, which had deteriorated over time.

Daphne Hardy Henrion established herself as a figurative sculptor when abstraction was prevalent in the mid-20th century and was influenced by classical and Italian Renaissance sculpture. She trained at the Royal Academy Schools in London from 1934-37 and was awarded a two year travelling scholarship and Gold Medal when she finished her studies aged just 19. Following two years studying Italian and French art, she moved to Paris in early summer 1939, at the outbreak of war, and remained there until after the Nazi invasion in May 1940. She spent most of the war in London where she met and later married the designer FHK Henrion, who designed two pavilions for the Festival of Britain. Her early post-war work includes a memorial to the victims of Belsen created in 1946.

Opened in May 1951, the Festival of Britain was a popular four-month summer festival conceived by the Government at the time to inspire a country still recovering from the devastation and austerity of the Second World War. A hundred years after the Great Exhibition, the country-wide celebration showcased Britain’s role at the forefront of design, architecture, science, industry, technology and the arts, with themed pavilions addressing everything from town planning to cinema. Its main site was a transformed South Bank site in London, which featured more than thirty sculptures including Youth and works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The sculpture will join the museum’s London Collection alongside other important memorabilia documenting the history of the event, including posters and printed material, as well as a model of the South Bank site.

Francis Marshall, Senior Curator (Paintings, Prints and Drawings) at the Museum of London, said: “It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to restore such a rare post-war artwork associated with so iconic a London event as the Festival of Britain. London has a long history of public art, all of which add to the culture of the city. Youth in particular highlights a time in London’s history where art was at the core of a national celebration, seeing rejuvenation to a country devastated by war. We’re incredibly grateful to the Henrion family, who have kindly gifted us this remarkable sculpture.”

Paul Henrion, son of Daphne Hardy Henrion, said: “As one of Daphne’s three children, I am delighted that the Museum of London has acquired this important early example of her work. We look forward to seeing her after she has been restored. Youth will be given a new lease of life and it is good to know there will be an opportunity for others to enjoy this sculpture in the future.”

Sarah Gaventa, public art expert and curator, said: “It was such a surprise to uncover Youth hidden behind a fig tree in a front garden in Hampstead where she had been standing for nearly 70 years. I am delighted to have been the matchmaker between the Henrion family and the Museum of London to find this important work a new home and to ensure its preservation.”

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A fixture on London’s cultural scene since first opening in 1976, the museum is moving house. It closed its doors at London Wall in December 2022 in preparation for its relocation to a new home at Smithfield, where it will occupy historic market buildings and open up to millions more visitors. The new museum will reopen to the public in 2026 under a new name: The London Museum.

The Museum of London Docklands, located at West India Quay in east London, remains open 7 days a week, from 10am-5pm and is FREE to all. You can also explore the Museum of London with collections online – home to 90,000 objects with more being added regularly.